How ’1883’ created a chance for a Los Angeles actor to make Fort Worth his home

Emerson Miller/CBS
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On his first day of shooting “1883” in Fort Worth, actor Eric Nelsen approached Sam Elliott and extended his right arm for a handshake. Elliott gave him a hug instead.

Nelsen is a veteran, established actor of stage and television, but, in this instance, he was like the rest of us.

This is Sam Elliott.

And Eric Nelsen is a fan.

Nelson, who lives in Fort Worth with his wife and their two children, found himself hoping that the opportunity to be around some of the series’ bigger names did not lead to inevitable disappointment.

“When I was on the set I didn’t expect to be with Tom Hanks; I didn’t know he was going to be on the show until we were filming,” Nelsen said in a recent phone interview. “Whether it was Sam Elliott, Tom Hanks, Billy Bob Thornton, you idolize these people and you do hope that they are what you expect and what you want them to be when you meet them.

“There is that nervousness of, ‘Please, don’t let me down.’ They were all the most genuine, down-to-earth humans. They have had all of this massive success and to be so grounded and giving, I’ve never seen so much grace and professionalism.”

Nelsen was quick to add fellow “1883” cast members Faith Hill and Tim McGraw into this category.

Nelsen is no different than the rest of us who managed to find a benefit or blessing amid this pandemic.

He was an established actor who accepted years ago that in order to work he had to live in New York or Los Angeles. But when the industry essentially closed in 2020, he and his family moved from L.A. to Fort Worth to be close to family where they would “ride it out.”

His wife, Sainty, is from Fort Worth, and the chance to be near her family with their two small children made sense.

During “all of this fun,” Nelsen received a phone call from producer/writer Taylor Sheridan, who offered Nelsen a role on his spinoff series from “Yellowstone,” which was set to be launched on Paramount+.

Nelsen plays “Ennis,” and appeared in five of the first 10 episodes.

Because of the success of the show, and the permanent alterations in the way Hollywood conducts its meetings virtually, Nelsen doesn’t have to leave Fort Worth at all.

“Never in a million years did I expect this,” said Nelsen, who is originally from Florida. “When Taylor Sheridan called me and told me they were doing this, he asked me where in Texas I was living, and I told him Fort Worth. He said, ‘Where in Fort Worth?’ and I asked him if he was familiar with the town.”

Slightly. Sheridan graduated from Paschal High School.

“You’re going to like this,” Sheridan told Nelsen, “we are shooting 15 minutes from where you live.”

Much of the show was filmed in the Stockyards as well as Weatherford.

The batting average on spinoffs isn’t great.

“Doing this does come with added pressure but the flip is that it comes with a built-in fan base that is just chomping at the bit to experience anything with ‘Yellowstone,’” Nelsen said. “The fan support to this was incredible, and they were on board.”

Paramount + has not announced a second season, but given the reception to the first, Nelsen feels good that “1883” is not over.

Nelsen, 31, doesn’t need “1883” to be renewed so he can avoid starvation.

His first screen credits started in 2006, when he appeared on “Guiding Light.” He has appeared in dozens of TV shows, including “Law & Order” in 2007, and a role in the Liam Neeson action movie, “Walk Among the Tombstones.”

Nelsen has achieved the goal of any aspiring actor. He consistently works and can provide for his family.

With “1883” on his résumé, more opportunities are coming.

“The phone calls are left and right and I am in the best place I’ve ever been,” he said. “I know it’s a hard industry, and I fight and claw my way in it. You can’t stop hustling or networking. You can’t get comfortable, but that is the thrill of it.

“I don’t take any of it for granted. We have seen someone you love on TV and later it’s, ‘What happened to that guy?’ That’s when actors get comfortable, and my mindset is I need to work harder.”

Nelsen aspires to one day return to Broadway and the theater, as well as to produce.

And, “thanks” to the pandemic, he can do all of this from his home in Fort Worth.

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